“Barefoot in the Park” is Still a Comic Hit

AVERILL PARK – When is a play considered a classic? The works of Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, Ibsen – certainly no one would dispute they belong in the illustrious air of the classics. What of Neil Simon? Certainly, his works have been successful. He has had multiple hits on Broadway and on screen, but does one consider him a classic writer? I have often thought that the definition of a classic is whether or not the works withstand the test of time. Do the audiences of today still weep for the lost lovers of Romeo and Juliet? Are we able to relate to Hedda Gabler in today’s world? Do we still care what happens to Willy Loman? 

And do we really care about newlyweds Paul and Corie Bratter, who are moving into the fifth-floor walk-up (six, if you count the front stoop) of a brownstone in New York City in the early 1960s? So goes the Neil Simon classic, Barefoot in the Park. Oddly enough, it is as relatable today as it was 50 years ago when Simon first presented it to Broadway audiences. There are a few dated spots, such as the AT&T installer coming to install the light-up princess phone in the apartment. Spectacularly played by Sam Quinones, his Harry Pepper is as relatable today as it was when he first trod up the stairs those 50 years previous. Barry Streifert as the delivery man for Lord and Taylor, another lost gem from yesteryear, is also a delight to watch as the two fight for oxygen as they make it to the palace in the sky. 

The cast that has been given to this community theater troupe is one that dreams are made of. Robin Shrager Suitor as Ethel Banks will leave you rolling in the aisles, not just from her line delivery as the somewhat trying mother of Corie Bratter, but the looks, glances, and eye rolls flesh out to perfection what could have been a cardboard supporting role. After quite a lengthy absence on area stages, it is wonderful to see Suitor back and in such fine form.

Michael Gialanella is Victor Velasco, the upstairs neighbor who, when his apartment door is unusable, simply goes out the bedroom window of the Bratter’s apartment, across the ledge, and into his apartment. Gialanella captures the nuances of the old-world Italian gigolo-con man whom Corie has decided to fix up with her conservative New Jersey widowed mother.

The show belongs, however, to Abbi Roy as Corie, the young innocent bride who views the world through rose-colored glasses, and Ryan Palmer as the incredibly frustrated, straitlaced, conservative attorney and new groom Paul. Corie is unable to see anything beyond the perfection of this new life she has begun; never mind the bathroom has no tub, there is a leak in the bedroom (actually a walk-in closet that can only handle a large twin-size bed), and the hole in the skylight window. Never mind it is February and the snow falls into the living room. Roy plays the foil to Palmer’s comic angst.

Ryan Palmer has turned comic timing into an art form. His delivery is always point on; he bends as much as his starch shirt will allow to see past the snow falling in the house, and exclaims he will be the first person to have to shovel his living room. Palmer has proven himself to be a gem in the Capital Region theater world, he gets better with every production.

Much must be said about Peter Quinones’s direction. He never allows his cast or the audience to reflect on the concept that the show should be and could be dated fair. He presents the trials and tribulations in Simon’s world to be as relevant today as yesterday. He always has his cast play for believability and never to rely on shtick. That is what makes this play work. Simon wrote from a strength of reality and Quinones reinforces that sense in his performers.

Bob and Sharon Dawes’ set design adds to the realism of the New York top-floor apartment. You can feel the excitement of a new beginning, and also the sense of “this couldn’t possibly be inhabitable.” Lisa Morgan’s costume designs are spot on… something not too often found in community theater productions and a pet peeve of this writer. 

Currently playing at Sand Lake Center for the Arts, Circle Theatre Players Barefoot in the Park is a joy. Make it a point to take the ride to relax, laugh, and soak up the classic comedy that is Neil Simon. 

Barefoot runs through Feb. 19. For ticket information: slca-ctp.org or call 518-674-2007.

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